19th Hole

Rob Rashell
Director of Instruction
TPC Scottsdale
Scottsdale, AZ

More Information

New Rule, Penalty Areas and Bunkers

Similar to most of you, I enjoyed being out at the Waste Management Phoenix Open working with and watching the world’s best players. I was walking on the right side of the par 5 third hole and witnessed a player hit his drive into the right penalty area (new name for hazards in 2019’s version of the rules). This player’s ball was clearly inside the penalty area (red line), but sitting on the gravely hard pan that all of us who play in Arizona know well. 

The new rule allows golfers in bunkers and penalty areas to move loose impediments, rocks, sticks, etc. Anything not attached to the ground. A player is also allowed to touch the ground with the club head in both these areas, but a few caveats come with the privilege of grounding the club. The player MAY NOT test the ground in either area, this is where the player I witnessed, broke the rule.

He was picking up rocks, getting ready to play, set his club on the ground and made a practice swing, taking a small divot out of the dirt. I didn’t think about it while I was watching, yet after reading up a bit on the new rules realized he was testing the surface with the practice swing, thus in violation of the rule. This player continued on to make par and no one, including the player, realized he should have been penalized.

Bunkers are just a little different in that you MAY NOT touch the sand at all getting ready to play your shot. You can set clubs in the bunker with no penalty although the governing bodies want players to gauge the lie and the sand without the information grounding the club can give you in the bunkers. In a penalty area you can set the club behind the ball WITHOUT using that information to gauge the lie, the violation again from the player in the W/M Phoenix Open taking a divot in a penalty area. 

One of the reasons we see players on TV always asking for a rules official comes from this idea. If a rule official gives you the green light on something, even if he’s wrong, you cannot be penalized. When millions of dollars are on the line, it’s a pretty sound idea to cover your bases, make sure you can’t be penalized further when you’re in a bad spot. Hope this helps and good luck! 

Rob Rashell is now the Director of  Instruction at TPC Scottsdale. You can reach him at robrashell@pgatourtpc.com.